I got hooked on “Making a Murderer.”
The 10-episode documentary released on Netflix last month tells the story of Steven Avery, a Manitowoc, Wisconsin, man who spent 18 years in jail for a rape that DNA evidence later proved he didn’t commit.
Soon enough, amid a lawsuit against the county that irresponsibly imprisoned him, Avery was arrested for murder.
Some of the facts do point toward him.
•As far as anyone knows, he was the last person to see the victim, photographer Teresa Halbach.
•Her car, a Toyota RAV4, was found on the Avery family’s property.
•Avery’s blood was found in her vehicle.
•A key to the RAV4 was found in Avery’s bedroom.
Looks pretty bad for him, right?
But his defense attorneys pointed out a lot of problems with the prosecution’s story and with the way the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office handled the investigation — not simply because it was their job and they felt they had to find straws to grasp at, but because there are legitimate concerns to raise.
•The prosecution claimed her throat was slit, but there was no blood evidence of that.
•A Wisconsin Crime Lab employee testified that Halbach’s blood was found on a bullet fragment, but she also said her own DNA got mixed into the testing. This raises the question of whether Halbach’s DNA also got there by accident.
She also admitted a detective directed her to “put (Halbach) in (Steven Avery's) house or garage,” which is inappropriate when the lab’s job is to provide accurate results, not the results a detective might like to see.
And there was no blood evidence on the floor of the garage where Halbach was supposedly shot, even in hard-to-clean cracks.
•It took multiple searches to find the RAV4 key in Avery’s bedroom. When it was found, only Manitowoc officers were present. They were only supposed to be there while supervised by a neighboring county’s office, given the conflict of interest that came from Avery’s lawsuit.
•The blood in Halbach’s vehicle could have come from a sample of blood taken from Avery during investigation of the rape he didn’t commit. The seal around the box holding this blood vial had been cut open, and there was a small hole in the top of the vial like a needle had been poked through to remove blood. A lab said that wasn’t something it would do.
One test said his blood in the vehicle did not come from that vial. Another expert testified that test isn’t actually reliable.
•The Avery family had an auto salvage yard. Avery could have crushed the RAV4, or at least hidden it better among other cars, if he was the one trying to dispose of it.
But the intact vehicle was found in 20 minutes by searchers who happened to have been provided with a camera when most weren’t.
Now it’s complicated. Now there are too many questions without answers and things that don’t quite add up.
But the jury still convicted Avery.
The points I’ve mentioned don’t come close to covering everything that the documentary did. Investigators’ treatment of Avery’s 16-year-old nephew, who likely has some kind of learning disability that prevented him from understanding what was happening when he was questioned, is worth its own column.
And the documentary — whether because of bias or because of the simple fact that 10 hours is not actually very long — couldn’t include every aspect of the trial.
But what’s included is testimony about police work that doesn’t make sense, holes that aren’t filled in, questions never satisfactorily answered, other avenues that weren’t thoroughly investigated.
What the jurors seemed to forget — and what I suspect is too often forgotten in courtrooms across the country — is that they aren’t deciding whether or not the defendant committed a crime.
They’re evaluating whether the prosecution has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
And there should have been so many doubts in Steven Avery’s case.